Abigail's Ghost - Black Plastic Sun
Thereafter (8:21), Sliver (5:51), For Damien (5:40), Bloodlust (5:38), Widowmakers (5:23), King of All (5:23), Le Metteur (7:14), Protist (4:44), Sweet Serenity (4:42), Smotherbox (8:52), Rather Unorthodox (3:49)
The progressive elements of the band commonly conjure comparisons to Porcupine Tree, but overall, the music here is lighter and perhaps more varied in style. Some poppy parts, and even some sappy parts appear here and there, and some of the songs channel fairly mainstream rock (with faint shades of Radiohead). There's even some twang (on King of All), an homage to the band's Southern roots.
On the whole, the song writing is diverse but within the songs, there are few surprises. You know what you're getting from the outset of the tune.
The production values throughout the CD are outstanding. Indeed, the sound is crisp, and instruments are separated beautifully.
Nevertheless, from my first listen, I was not hooked. Why? First, the singing. It seems strained, both in tone and timing, and the vocal range is too narrow. Indeed, the uniformity of the vocals, which are prominent throughout, creates a faint cloud of monotony. Second, the lack of obvious inter-songs themes results in an unconnected mish-mash of styles. But more on that later.
The downsides are somewhat offset by the strength of the instrumental talent, which unfortunately is spotlighted too rarely. For example, the blazing guitar on Bloodlust and Smotherbox is stunning, and the fuzzy yet forceful guitar lines on Le Metteur are truly satisfying. Less pleasing are most of the heavy guitar riffs, such as those on Protist. Moreover, the drumming is excellent throughout: the foundation is set well, and the drum fills are skilful and perfectly placed.
As noted, the tunes are all over the place, and even then, some of the tunes are particularly ill-fitting. For example, it's hard to see what fans of somewhat dark progressive rock would find in Sweet Serenity, which is not merely sweet but borderline sugary. The same could be said about the similarly airy closer, Rather Unorthodox. A more consistent musical rubric would have been welcome.
In short, Black Plastic Sun is a mixed bag. It's certainly a worthy listen in parts. But the strong musicianship is mostly overpowered by the less-impressive vocals, and the individual tunes don't work symbiotically to create a greater, or even definable, sum.
Joel Atlas: 6 out of 10
Adramelch - Opus
Black Mirror (5:48), Long live the son (5:12), Pride (5:41), Northern lights (5:22), Only by pain (6:39), A neverending rise (5:29), Fate (6:19), Ostinato (4:30), As the shadows fall (5:49), Forgotten words (5:55), Trodden doll (5:30), Where do I belong (4:28)
Adramelch's music is considered progressive metal, but Opus strikes me as more of a straightforward prog album with metal flourishes. Ballerio's vocals, eerily reminiscent of Vanden Plas' vocalist Andy Kuntz, is definitely the most "metallic" part of the band's music. While his voice does not have the same smoothness as Andy Kuntz's, Ballerio does sound a lot like many of the German and Scandanavian metal singers, progressive or otherwise. It is definitely a high point for the group. However, when he sings, he sounds like he is singing for metal, while the music has more of a rock sound to it.
Overall, Opus is a fairly well-produced album, sounding best on a quality set of headphones. The music contains an impressive level of depth, with the keyboards nicely complementing the guitars. The music itself is rather psychedelic, although not quite in a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon way. It is certainly heavier than Dark Side, but the band makes great use of flowing guitar solos that seem to float the listener along. Along with the vocals, the guitar solos are one of the best parts of Adramelch's music. They are very enjoyable. However, the drums during the guitar solos tend to be too monotonous, to the point of distracting the listener from the guitar. During the verses and chorus, the drums are relatively complex, although they never quite approach a prog metal sound. The bass is standard rock bass, in that it doesn't really stand out.
The band mixes up their sound on a few songs, particularly with the final song, Where do I belong, which begins acoustically, and gradually builds to metal. It is a nice change-up, and a good way to end the album. Trodden doll is probably the heaviest song, although it is still relatively tame.
Overall, Opus is a solid album for Adramelch's last outing as a band. It is not very heavy, but it has good moments, particularly with the guitar solos. Fans of Italian prog should definitely give it a listen, but if you dislike the sound of German and Nordic prog metal vocalists, you probably won't like Adramelch's music. Nevertheless, Adramelch has successfully ended their career on their own terms, and with a quality album. I can't think of a better way to go.
Bryan Morey: 6 out of 10
Caligula's Horse - Bloom
Bloom (3:16), Marigold (6:19), Firelight (4:38), Dragonfly (9:23), Rust (5:32), Turntail (5:02), Daughter of the Mountain (7:55), Undergrowth (2:50)
This was exactly what happened when I slipped Bloom into my CD player. An acoustic guitar playing easily along, then, just as comforting, Jim Grey's voice, in a warm tone singing over the accompanying guitar. His voice just draws attention to itself before a fine and short guitar solo takes over around the 1:20 minute mark. All fine, and this wouldn't sound out of place in a retro rock album. Then, just when Jim has sung "On your feet now", the full band kicks in and the song, as short as it is, turns in a wholly different direction.
With Geoff Irish in full control at the drum kit and doing a fine job in not overdoing himself on the double bass drum, the bass, courtesy of Dave Couper, thunders along. Both provide more than a solid backing, frequently reminding me of the playfulness and virtuosity that Danny Carey and Justin Chancellor display in Tool.
Then there are the simply splendid guitar parts that band founder Sam Vallen and Zac Greensill deliver. Both the end of the opening title track and Marigold move into far heavier territory than the opening minutes would have us think of. Boy, do they rock!
Jim Grey's voice breathes as much life as Dredg's Gavin Hayes or The Dear Hunter's Casey Crescenzo. There are some similarities in music as well. Firelight might be the most obvious example of that. The song structure, guitar parts and vocal lines do have a likeness to Dredg. Mind, that is not a bad thing at all. Even though some might consider Dredg to be too commercially inclined, they know how to write songs and, most of all, have dared to be progressive in developing their sounds through the years.
What this Australian band has managed to write here, is an album of only eight songs and just about 44 minutes, but one that knows how to grab your attention and maintain it throughout. Where modern progressiveness, if there is such a thing, is woven into songs and has you think of Opeth, Coheed and Cambria, Psychotic Waltz and the aforementioned Dredg and Tool, there are also references to days of yore where you can't fault yourself for thinking either of Yes or even Queen.
The band knows how to write chunky riffs, as heavy as they get, but they also have a feel for hooks and vocal lines that just get into you. This is one of those albums that takes you into realms of its own, and all you will want to do is travel in that said realm. Yes, this is not one for the faint of heart. This is not your ambient, background prog. This is in-your-face 2015 prog and it rocks, that's for sure.
I can't say how many times I have already given this album a spin, yet there are still new elements to discover. If you like your prog to be edged a bit more heavy, without ever becoming too heavy, whilst having a sense for great riffs and songs, then this might be for you. If any of the bands mentioned hold something for you, then just give this emperor's horse a try. I have found this album to truly show a band in full 'Bloom'.
Marcel Hartenberg: 9 out of 10
Exxasens - Back To Earth
Supernova (6:45), My Hands Are Planets (3:43), Hugeness (6:10), Oniria's Interlude (0:51), Your Dreams Are My Dreams (3:07), Bright Side of the Moon (8:08), Saturn (3:52), Back to Earth (6:23)
With four well-received releases behind them, the band was one of the big hits at this year's ProgPower Europe festival in The Netherlands. Shortly after their set, someone from the band, upon hearing about DPRP, pressed a promo for their latest album into my hands with an invitation to review it - if I liked it!
Now, I am not one to get too excited by either instrumental music, nor sounds which emanate from the post rock sub-genre. Put the two together, and 'underwhelmed' would be an overstatement.
However, it was a long 13-hour drive back to our home in the middle of France, and I was keen to find anything to lighten the tedium of 800 kilometres of our country's scenically-challenged autoroutes.
Upon arrival Chez Read I had given this album three full spins, and had to concede that my musical prejudices may need updating. I actually rather like Back To Earth.
Although split into eight tracks, for me this disc really exists as one long piece of music. There is a continuity to its flow and groove. The lack of dynamical and stylistic variety could make this album unappealing for lovers of more complex progressive stuff. Yet here, one is lulled into a cosy audio space where melodies and rhythms evolve gently and the sense of journey and mood is welcoming and inviting. If Back To Earth was a person, it would be a masseur.
Again the short playing time of this disc could be a negative. But it means the band's chosen style does not become wearing or overly repetitive.
Stylistically the music is mostly mid- to slow-paced, with a heavy electronic, almost spacey feel to much of it. The melodies are to the fore, mostly carried by the guitars. Soloing and instrumental complexity is non-existent.
Similar bands would be God is An Astronaut and Mogwai, whilst in places I was reminded of New Order and The Cure for the bursts of melancholic electronica. The atmospheres created mix lightweight Pink Floyd with heavier bursts, in almost equal quantities. I would never call this 'metal'.
Two tracks feature some vocalising, whilst Saturn actually features a vocalist (unnamed) and works well in adding a touch of variety to proceedings. A very enjoyable musical discovery that I shall return to frequently.
Andy Read: 8 out of 10
Hillward - Flies in Amber Stones
Flies In Amber Stones (4:37), Alive (5:18), One Goodbye (3:48), The Missing Link (5:02), Entropy (2:12), When It All Comes True (6:50), Quiescence (4:54), Quantify The Abstract (3:43), Walls Of Apathy (5:09), The End Of Logic (6:02)
Flies in Amber Stones is a superb set of moody, atmospheric songs with occasional guitar-crunch. When the songs were being written, it became clear that this collection did not easily fit into the angrier, more intense, metallic style of Southern Cross. Hillward was created as the vehicle to deliver them to a discerning, heavy prog audience.
There is a certain Riverside vibe to the song writing, but Flies in Amber Stones is more of a warming thing, as opposed to the melancholy of the Poles. It has a big soul this album.
If you enjoy Southern Cross' From Tragedy, (one of my Top 10 albums from 2012), it's got their signature sound, and the ultra-distinctive voice of David Lizotte, but is set in a totally different sonic environment. Hillward takes more from Porcupine Tree and Tool than from Dream Theater or Queensryche.
It is not quite so progressively-artsy, but the closest comparison I can give is Slug Comparison, which oddly enough was also a side project, in this case from Doug Harrison; another singer with another wonderful Canadian progressive band called Fen. (My short review of the debut Slug Comparison album can be read here.)
If you liked Slug Comparison, I'm sure you will enjoy Hillward. Try the title track, or the impactful instrumental Quantify the Abstract to get an idea of why, along with the superbly-catchy Meloria by Ghost, this is currently my most-played disc. I like this a lot!
Andy Read: 9 out of 10
Elmo Karjalainen - The Free Guitar Album
Instrumental (4:28), Don't Quit Yer Day Job (4:49), Clark-San (0:18), Incontinental Breakfast (4:18), She Sleeps on the Moon (5:29), Algorythm (4:22), Noises (0:39), The Gentle Art of Listening (5:58), The Bolero Unravels (I Come Undone) (5:43), Relax (3:25), Don't Quit Yer Day Job (Alt. Solos) (4:49), Algorythm (Alt. Solos) (4:22), She Sleeps on the Moon (Alt. Solos) (5:27)
The man can play guitar. But, having said that, there are many, many other guitar albums out there, and it's hard to stand out in a crowd. Comparisons to people like Steve Vai are inevitable, but Karjalainen does give his instrument many voices and certainly stands up among the greats given his playing ability.
There are plenty of different sounds and styles on offer, although the full-on attack doesn't really let up until the fifth piece, the beautiful She Sleeps on the Moon, which really showcases Karjalainen in a much different, and even potentially better light.
Because of the glut of guitar albums, it is playing like this, and the ability to beautifully change pace, that steals the show. Of course, towards the end of the track, there's still an opportunity to show off the fast chops, even though it might not be a necessity; the melody is good enough on its own. There are so many memorable guitar solos out there which stand out because less is more. This isn't really Karjalainen's approach. At times, it's almost classical music played on a rock guitar, reminding a little of Dave Edmunds' work with Love Sculpture several decades ago. But, clearly it is to Vai and Joe Satriani that Karjalainen will inevitably be measured and compared.
The CD cover, a sparse cartoon, hints at a sense of humour that is borne out by the rather odd, and frankly unnecessary spoken word interlude Clark-San, and the aptly named Noises, which is, well, 30 seconds of noises. The composition that follows, The Gentle Art of Listening, is sublime, as the guitar has room to breathe. The Bolero Unravels doesn't really evoke Ravel, in spite of the fact that the album's opener, Instrumental, does have a feel of that well-known classical piece. Relax, the final track, is another gorgeous acoustic outpouring of beauty.
At the end of the album, if you'd wondered if the solos could have been played differently, you get the chance to find out, with three of the tunes with alternative solos. Remixes, as it were.
It's not hard to admire the sheer talent of the guitar playing, or the fact that it's possible to download the album for free (with a suggested donation, of course). And while the Finn's flying fingers impress, it's on the more understated numbers that, one hopes, the future lies, given the feeling and sheer beauty they convey. But for rock guitar aficionados looking for the next best thing, this certainly fits the bill. A Flying Finn indeed.
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10
Kyrbgrinder - Chronicles of a Dark Machine
Slipping Away (4:52), Captain America (5:41), Kill Them All (3:33), Egocentric Suicide (4:14), I Know Why (5:26), Oxygen (3:36), Taking Control (1:41), I Feel Blue (4:22), Chronicles Of A Dark Machine (4:59) The Your Soul (1:35)
Kyrbgrinder certainly is influenced by Threshold, musically and lyrically. Chronicles... is also a riff-driven album. In his lyrics, James criticises modern culture in the same way Richard West and Groom do in their lyrics for Threshold. So much far the similarities. This does not mean that Kyrbgrinder sounds like a Threshold-clone. Threshold is a melodic heavy-metal band with prog influences. Kyrbgrinder is pure heavy-metal style rock. These are relatively short songs, and much more aggressive. The guitar solos are mean and explosive. So this isn't progressive rock. Kyrbgrinder is just rock.
Having said this, I hasten to say that I really enjoyed this album. With 10 songs (and no epics) Kyrbgrinder bring a lot of energy and great musicianship. Their music creates an atmosphere of explosive creativity. You have to listen quite carefully to it and there is a lot to explore in every song. This is not just ordinary rock or heavy metal. This is heavy rock for musicians (like James Joyce wrote literature for writers).
Those who like to listen to Kings X for their frontal and honest rock, and who are not afraid of a more heavy metal feel should give this a try. It only takes 40 minutes. It takes your breath away and you will be longing for a rest. But, after a day or two, you will give it another spin - and you will be surprised again.
Wim Dekker: 7.5 out of 10
Pagan's Mind - Full Circle - Live at Center Stage [DVD + 2CD]
DVD: Approaching, Through Osiris' Eyes, Entrance Stargate, ....Of Epic Questions, Dimensions of Fire, Dreamscape Lucidity, The Seven Sacred Promises, Back to the Magic of Childhood I: Conception, Back to the Magic of Childhood II: Exploring Life, In Brilliant White Light, Aegean Shores, The Prophecy of Pleiades, New World Order, Intermission, Enigmatic Mission, Live Your Life Like a Dream, Hallo Spaceboy, Full Circle, Walk Away in Silence, Eyes of Fire, God's Equation, United Alliance
In awarding Celestial Entrance an enthusiatic 9.5/10, I concluded that: "ProgMetal albums that are this distinct and are of this quality, are created only a few times every year ... there can be no doubt that it will take Pagan's Mind straight into the premier league."
So enthused was I, that a trip was made to The Netherlands to watch the band at Progpower Europe (PPE) (review here), where I also completed a nice little interview with singer Nils K Rue and guitarist Jørn Viggo Lofstad.
The great thing about actively following this scene for so long, is seeing a band you met in its formative years, go on to have a successful career. Pagan's Mind has now released five acclaimed studio albums with the same founding line-up, and a few months ago returned to PPE as headliners.
Anyway, back to 2003 and the band was also invited to appear at ProgPower USA. The praise they received in Atlanta was unlike anything the band had ever experienced before. Pagan's Mind played the festival again in 2007, and in 2009 returned for the festival's 10 Year Anniversary under the moniker 'Returning Heroes'.
On September 11th 2014, another historical performance took place at Center Stage, featuring Celestial Entrance in its entirety plus an additional 'best of' set.
Boosted by a major crowd-funding campaign this whole epic show was captured by a troop of cameras for the release of this, the band's second live DVD.
Full Circle - Live at Center Stage comes in a range of formats (Blueray/DVD/CD/vinyl). My review copy is the DVD and 2CD version. The DVD offers the full show split into two parts - the same as it was performed, with the band having a well-deserved break after playing the whole of Celestial Entrance. The CDs have each half of the performance on a seperate disc. The tracklist is the same on the DVD and the 2CDs. The packaging is great, coming in a triple gatefold pack with a nice, thick booklet containing some wonderful photos.
A dozen years after my first live experince of Pagan's Mind and I must admit that my tastes have moved someway from their brand of high-pitched, spacey prog metal. It is the sort of thing that I still enjoy, for say a 50-minute support slot, but with a full headline show, my attention is beginning to wander for a lack of variety.
Splitting this show into two halves has helped me a lot. Even though it still weighs in at 70+ minutes (a decent headline set), the first half is truly superb listening and viewing, as Celestial Entrance remains a personal favourite and a genuine classic of the sub-genre. All the tracks are performed to a high standard, with Nils still able to hit all the notes. Tracks such as Through Osiris' Eye and The Seven Sacred Promises can still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention.
It is the second half of the set that I find harder to last all the way through. Few of the songs reach the same standard as those on Celestial Entrance. The balladic Live Your Life Like a Dream is plain filler material, and I find the lengthy instrumental Full Circle rather dull (although the response of the Atlanta crowd to this song, suggests I'm in a minority). The closing pair of God's Equation and United Alliance are much better.
Some aspects of the filming could have been done better. The first half of the show totally ignores the audience. Whilst crowd shots do appear in part two, I've seen the live atmopshere and crowd reaction captured much better than this.
More thought could also have gone into the lighting and location of the cameras. The two fixed cameras for the drums and keyboards get very tiring after a short while, not helped by the camera for the keyboards being at a very poor angle. They could at least have been moved at the halftime break, to give a different perspective for the second half of the show. The lack of spot lighting, especially for Jørn Viggo Lofstad, means that the majority of close-up shots of him are very poor quality. With the cameras seemingly fixed to certain spots, after 156 minutes of the same collection of angles, visually, things become too repetitive.
The sound quality is great, and all the performnaces are solid, including two songs featuring guest singer Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus). Whilst far from static, Pagan's Mind are not the most animated of live bands. But viewing this, I am once again reminded of why Jørn Viggo Lofstad is one of my favourite guitarists.
Overall this stands as a fine record of one of the premier progressive metal bands of the past decade, and a once-in-a-livetime performance, and it is worth the price alone for the performance of Celestial Entrance.
Andy Read: 8.5 out of 10
Panzerballett - Breaking Brain
Euroblast (7:10), Typewriter II, (6:11), Der Saxdiktator (8:41), Mahna Mahna (2:37), Smootchy Borg Funk (6:12), Frantik Nervesaw Massacre (7:42), Shunyai/Intro (2:05), Shunyai (8:26), Pink Panther (6:20)
One major change is that there are less tempo changes in the tunes and throughout the entire album. Another strongly noticeable difference is a more consistent style that has a higher dose of progressive metal than jazz elements. Another development is a new seriousness in their writing and arrangements. Where the band's song titles were always silly in the past, and the music equally so, it's all more grounded now and the compositions are more focussed on a given theme. There are still hilarious ideas, but not as silly as they used to be. But it is still the same Panzerballett as we know them. Their style continues and the hunt for the most complex and inhuman musical structures still receives the highest score in their form of art.
The first tune, Euroblast, is named after Europe's leading djent festival. It is a play on a theme around the stuttering djent rhythms and the most eminent guitar techniques used in that genre. Since both the genre and Jan Zehrfeld are gravitating around Meshuggah, this is nothing new, but it is a good opportunity to make yourself familiar with Zehrfeld's new sinister tone of the 8-string guitar.
Typewriter II is an affront in the jazz scene, as it uses samples of a typewriter as a percussive element. It reminds me of typing lesson songs were played to us in class so we would learn to type at a steady pace. If only they had played this song to us back then, it would have been so much more fun! Also, we would have learned to love easy-listening jazz from the breaks the tune has.
Saxdominator provides a couple of solo spots for all musicians, but of course the sax has the lead role. Only at the end does the guitar take over for a rather funky ending.
Piero Umilianis' Mahna Mahna, the first cover version, reveals a new attitude in the way the band destroys songs. So far they made fun of a song by simply inverting its mood. Mahna Mahna begins as strangely as the original, and the song's theme stays that way throughout. But is has intersections of all possible moods, such as irritation, melancholy, madness, sadness, and so on. This interplay of moods is still quite fun and a joy to listen to. And it wouldn't be Zehrfeld if that little riff from Enter Sandman were missing.
Another song worth mentioning is Shunyai, a cover of a song from Indian percussionist and mouth-percussionist Trilok Gurtu. While adapting Indian music to their style, the band has created the most jazzy tune on the album, and jazz-wise one of the band's best, in my opinion. Panzerballett's improvisation around the bass line of that song is quite intriguing and Gurtu's guest appearance rounds up this world music fusion piece perfectly.
Sound-wise, the band has shown signs of improvement too. Zehrfeld's Ibanez endorsement brings a good new balance to his guitar tone and, together with Heiko Jung's new semi-acoustic Marleaux bass, the band sound is more balanced and clear and thus the CD production is more audiophile than ever.
With this album, Panzerballett finally managed to do the impossible. They deliver the most complicated music possible. They put it in a jazzy structure, but play it so heavily that the jazz police gains forces to finally catch these blasphemers. And this time they arranged it all in a way that is very comfortable to digest for us unworthy common listeners.
Raimond Fischbach: 10 out of 10
Queensrÿche - Condition Hüman
Arrow of Time (3:59), Guardian (4:20), Hellfire (5:05), Toxic Remedy (4:09), Selfish Lives (4:58), Eye9 (3:21), Bulletproof (4:01), Hourglass (5:10), Just Us (5:58), All There Was (3:44), The Aftermath (0:56), Condition Hüman (7:46)
Well, somewhere around that time, Michael Wilton, Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson wanted to get their rocks out again and had to find out whether or not Geoff Tate was up for that. Suffice to say, opinions differed and an acrimonious battle concerning name and logo raged-on. That led us to having two Queensrÿche releases the last time around, after which the debate came to an end in court.
The first release of the 'new official' band was the Queensrÿche album. That was an album putting the band back in time and landed them on their feet, producing a rock album as if the 80s had only just vanished. Where they once were taking hold of the flame of progressiveness in the metal field, this self-titled album did more in exploring the heavier rock side of their roots. Not that the progressiveness totally vanished. It was still there, yet it didn't show as much as it did in Queensrÿche's early days.
Now in 2015 another album is here. While their biography goes a long way in describing all their efforts and successes and heralds this new album, only the music can truly do the talking.
The album opener has Parker Lundgren and Michael Wilton spurting out of the gates, and an up-tempo Queensrÿche immediately manifests itself. Even though the song is as rocky as it gets, there is more variation in the track. The vocal lines and choir-parts always were a bit of the younger Queensrÿche era, and they are here in full battle dress. Queensrÿche was always somewhat influenced by Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and the twin-guitar sound here adds to the appeal of the opener. For sure, if you read 'prog' as being stacked with keyboards, then read no further. This album holds guitars at the front, and does so with pride.
As the second track makes its way, there is a feel of Rage for Order, Operation Mindcrime and Empire mingled with some good-old Crimson Glory sentiments making their way to the ears and heart of the listener. Something youthful fills the air, especially in the choruses, as Todd La Torre sings "Revolution Calling". It's the song structure, it's in Scott's drumming, Eddie's bass and their combination with the guitars, where the band takes you by the hand and says: "Welcome back to the progressive side of our sound."
Along with Crimson Glory, Fates Warning, and Lethal, Queensryche shared a territory of rock that often challenged with lyrics, intricate drum patterns, great and melodic riffing, high-pitched melodic vocal lines and band members who knew their way around their instrument and how to write great music. All also shared a penchant for progressiveness that sprung from influences such as Rush, Peter Gabriel or Pink Floyd.
Sure, not all these influences were always worn on the sleeves, yet Queensrÿche's back catalogue, particularly their covers album, does show where the Seattle band get their kicks from. If this kind of music has you all raving, then I do suggest checking out Crimson Glory's debut and Transcendence albums and Lethal's Programmed. You may be in for a treat.
Condition Hüman is an album that sees the band take you on a journey through that territory of rock, once inhabited by the afore-named bands. It sort of delves its way into the core of that terrain, showers it in the sound that built Rage ..., Operation ... and Empire, gives the vocal lines more than a nod, smiles as Scott plays the drums with great skill and diversity, has Eddie play solid bass and finishes it off with some very tasty guitar solo's and twin guitar work by Parker Lundgren and Michael Wilton. The band touch on subjects sometimes as mystical and story-like as way back when, but there's also room for lyrics on modern-day subjects. Todd has found his way in the band and more and more makes the vocals in Queensrÿche his domain, notlonger being the one filling his predecessor's shoes.
This may not be the album that will overwhelm you in complexity but it does have that special feature: it has the ability to remain in your cd player so that you fully explore it, just like back in the day when you would absorb each and every second of Queensrÿche's prized albums. Operation Mindcrime this is not, yet what the band have crafted here, is an album that is not only a great follow up to Queensrÿche, it is an exemplary return to their progressive side and, in my humble opinion, it would have been a far better suited follow-up to either Empire or Promised Land. Yes, it is that good.
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10
Rite of Passage - Angels and Demons
Breaking Through The Walls (7:14), Dream Horizon (6:37), Before Midnight (7:52), Change and Transition (8:57), Angels and Demons (7:22), Dark Necessity (7:35), Saying Goodbye (5:06), Flash of Clarity (9:53)
The sound of Rite Of Passage is dark, the reason for which could be the variety of instruments played by bass player Jon Martin, including basses, Arp and Moog. The dark sound is also created by heavy guitar riffs drenched in keyboard layers.
Opener Breaking Through The Walls kind of sums-up what Rite Of Passage is about. From the start they show what is to be expected with a heavy rock song that should grab the attention of all progressive metal heads. On Dream Horizon they try to build more variety into the song. It is a good approach to first grab the attention with the opening song and then expand the field of play. Before Midnight is all about the dark atmosphere. These first three songs complete the first part of the album called Separation, and form a nice start.
Transition contains the next three songs, with lots af variety, whilst not overdoing it technically. It is solid stuff. The last phase, Reincorporation (two songs), is more dramatic. The Dream Theater-styling does not change but the album is surprisingly diverse; enough to keep the whole CD interesting.
Rite Of Passage can be added to the list of Dream Theater copycats and therefore feel I can shamelessly compare them with other copycats. I have heard better and I have heard worse, so this band falls a bit in the middle. Angels And Demons has a dark, heavy sound with heavy riffs and layers of keyboards. The variety in compositions is the positive side to this album. The overall production is not always perfect. The guitar sounds raw, the keyboards polished and the vocals need more power. If you are interested in Dream Theater copycats, then this could be a nice addition to your collection.
Edwin Roosjen: 6.5 out of 10
Starquake - Times that Matter
Scenes from a Revolution (8:08), Close Encounter (6:27), I'm Goin' Mad (You Comin'?) (3:32), Rise and Fall (21:02), Here I Go Again (4:34), The Needle Lies (3:41), Times that Matter (4:10), Good Bye My Friend (5:04), No More Hate (4:36), Whatever (3:23), Fairytale (8:30)
From its striking cover art from Rodney Matthews to the story told throughout the record, it screams concept from start to finish.
Musically, the mix is old school hard rock through Hammond-driven prog. There are epic tracks like the opening Scenes from a Revolution, with its manic, driving riff and mix of vocal samples and heavy guitars (provided by Alex Kugler, Joe Wagner and Michael Wopshall). It sounds like early 70s Uriah Heep, fronted by Dickinson.
Then we have the string-laden prog pop of Close Encounter, which turns the UFO story neatly on its head, with the aliens choosing not to land on Earth because there's no intelligent life here.
I'm Goin' Mad alternatively has some fantastic vocal harmonies and some wonderfully powerful Hammond and drum interludes (provided by Jan Van Meerand - who is a pure metal powerhouse throughout the record).
As the album is over 70 minutes long, the epic tracks on here (and believe me there are some traditional prog epics) like Rise and Fall, with its almost prog-by-numbers construction. There is an acoustic passage to open, followed by a louder bit where the guitar and organ kick in, then the narrative passage, then a piano-driven section, before a hugely catchy part tells the unlikely story of the karaoke King, a cliched rewrite of a million other stories about an outsider who has the voice of an angel, and then becomes successful and blows it all. Not particularly fresh, not particularly original and, to be honest, Marillion did the whole rags-to-riches-to-rags tale far better in Three Minute Boy.
The band are supremely talented - Mikey has an amazing voice and a powerful musical vision with some brilliant songwriting, including the fantastically bluesy bar-room sing-along title track complete with a throaty laugh that adds so much to the song. However, when they veer towards a 70s homage, they don't put enough of themselves into it. There are plenty of great albums from the 1970s that give me everything I want from 1970s prog/metal/hard rock. In 2015, I don't expect to hear bands fighting musical battles that have already been won.
I want bands like Starquake to take that influence and add to it, not retread it, and with the talent on display here this is something they should be able to do. It frustrates me so much when bands that have so much to give take the easier way out. i want to hear something new, something original, something that adds to a legacy and that isn't just a copy. If I want to buy a painting I'll buy a painting not a photocopy of the painting, and it's the same with music. This doesn't mean I don't like this album, I do, there's lots of here to love and enjoy and it's a fab album to drive to. I do hope that now they've got the 70s homage out of their system the next album they do will blow us all away.
James R Turner: 6 out of 10